Cullen signs, Eckersley and Kiernan extend loans, Speight returns and Price departs

The January revolving door seems to be in full swing at Valley Parade, with one new face joining the dressing room, two more sticking around for a bit longer, a familiar face coming back and a guy with distinctive hair packing his bags.

Hull City striker Mark Cullen is the fresh arrival, the 18-year-old striker signing a one-month loan deal which one assumes will begin from the bench on Saturday at least. Cullen has started six games and made 14 sub appearances for the Tigers, most notably netting a goal against Wigan at the end of Hull’s time in the Premier League, last May. This season he has netted once in the Carling Cup, but the arrival of prolific lower league strikers Aaron McLean and Matty Fryatt to the KC will limit his first team chances.

Cullen probably takes the squad role of Ryan Kendal last season and Louis Moult in the first half of this season, in being a young striker of potential City will hopefully benefit from. Cullen netted 33 goals in 30 games at youth and reserve level last season. Though Moult’s less than impressive time at Valley Parade – a high goalscorer for Stoke’s youth team – emphasised once again how there is a world of difference between junior and first team football.

Meanwhile Richard Eckersley has joined Rob Kiernan in remaining at the club – with City’s defensive options looking more thin-bare following another injury to Steve Williams, the delayed return to fitness of Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, and the departure of Zesh Rehman. Eckersley has impressed since making his debut against Macclesfield in November and gets forward well, despite sometimes lacking composure in the final third. Kiernan’s time at City has been mixed – he had an excellent debut at Wycombe, but struggled in subsequent home games against Macclesfield and Accrington. His best performance to date came when deputising for Williams on Monday, and he will offer strong competition to Shane Duff and Luke Oliver.

Departing rather quietly is Jason Price. The distinctive Welshman enjoyed a reasonable time at City, after signing last October, but his poor goal return left him struggling to prove he offered a long-term solution. Price was signed just as James Hanson was returning to fitness, and he helped unload some of the burden from last season’s top scorer through Peter Taylor rotating the pair. Price looked an effective player on his day, but his similarity to Hanson meant a strike partnership failed to work.

If Cullen is taking Moult’s place in the squad, Jake Speight’s return from Port Vale will possibly see him assume Price’s position in terms of the wage bill if nothing else. To say Speight’s time at City has been interesting would be understating the series of bizarre events that have unfolded since his summer arrival. It is, however, easy to forget that he looked a very good player during the early season games, especially the two Carling Cup ties.

Like Price, Speight was struggling in front of goal and Taylor’s decision to send him to Vale suggested a quick judgment had been made over his capability of firing City to promotion. Speight rarely started at Vale and netted only once, a tap in, against Stockport. Having spent a not insignificant amount of money luring him from Mansfield, Speight’s failure to impress back in league football is potentially causing Taylor a headache.

It will be interesting to see if Speight is given another opportunity at Valley Parade, or whether he will be quickly going back through that revolving door to another club on loan, with a view to a permanent transfer. In the meantime, and after his misguided comments on the local radio in Stoke, one hopes that Speight will at least be fit enough to make a positive contribution if called upon.

Where this latest range of loan moves – commencing, continuing and concluding – leaves Taylor’s plans for the rest of the season is uncertain. Once Ramsden and Hunt are fit, it’s unlikely Eckersley will stick around. Kiernan’s loan has only been extended two weeks, suggesting he will depart once City’s permanent central defenders are back to full fitness. The future of the other player on loan, Tom Adeyemi, has yet to be resolved.

If the treatment room can be cleared out and those cover loan players sent back, Taylor may be left with some budget to bring in one more quality player to replace Lee Hendrie. A player who could make the difference between City’s being play off challengers and play off finishers.

Best keep that door open for a little while yet.

Snow, swearing, and why we are not going to Aldershot this weekend

The game at Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground hosting Bradford City this weekend is off with the snow down there being worse than it is up here – and the BfB back garden test shows a foot of winter – and s the fact that the Shots are coming off the back of an FA Cup defeat to Dover, that they have signed the promising Wesley Ngo Bahang on loan from Newcastle United and the fact that they are 12th in League Two three places above City probably do not matter.

Indeed by the time this game is played – and we have been in the cancelled Aldershot trip trap before – the returning to fitness Gareth Evans may have been joined by the likes of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Michael Flynn or Shane Duff who could have crawled from the fitness room and burst back into action.

Likewise – depending on when the rearranged game is played – the likes of Tom Adeyemi, Louis Moult, Richard Eckersley, Jason Price and Rob Kiernan may have returned to their parent clubs while Lenny Pidgeley’s contract has expired. Such is the nature of modern football with the possibility that half the players on one side might no longer be at a club after the hand of nature intervenes.

The hand of nature intercedes in football increasingly commonly – it is to do with the effects of Global Warming moving the Gulf Stream – and clubs now switch to an orange ball in the winter months without even waiting for the snow. Ipswich Town added the blues lines to the orange ball in the interests of clarity. We get blasé about the orange ball but in the past it was the source of much mystery.

How many orange balls did each club have? What happened if during a snow game all the orange balls burst? Would a white one be used or would a game really by abandoned because the ball was the wrong colour? Perhaps most importantly why in July 1966 was an orange ball used for the blisteringly sunny World Cup final?

If we get blasé about the orange ball that is nothing compared to the tedium we have to the foreign player and his attitude to snow. There was a time when on the sight of snow a local paper would hightail it down to the training ground to find whichever South American or African player was employed by the club and would look suitability fascinated by the snow.

“He’s never seen the stuff,” the manager would say, “but he’s getting used to it.” The freezing player would be pictured in high jinx with his local team mates.

Most famously one of Wesley Ngo Bahang’s predecessors at Newcastle United Mirandinha was pictured messing around in the white stuff with team mate Paul Gascoigne. For reasons lost in the midst of time The Magpies Willie McFaul seemed to think that Gascoigne would be perfect for giving the Brazilian an introduction to the North East.

So Gazza and Mirandinha were thick as thieves with the Gateshead midfielder teaching the man from Brasilia about life in England. How to say Hello, how to say thank you and – infamously – how to say sorry.

The Gazza and Mirandinha combination came to Valley Parade for a Simod Cup match in 1988 where Stuart McCall played one of his two games against Gascoigne (the other being in Euro 1996, and after many glories at Rangers and Gascoigne dubbing the City man “the first name on his team sheet”, and each missed the games in the Premier League) and City were victorious 2-1. Mirandinha missed an open goal from six yards and Gascoigne looked good.

Mirandinha was an interesting player. Selfish, of course, and like our own Brazilian Edinho he seemed to keep a loose definition of tackling sliding in on defenders a little too often. One time early in his career at St James’ Park ‘dinha slid in clattering a defender to the ground as he tried to clear it. The Referee trotted over to have a word with the striker using the international language of the yellow card only for the striker to approach him with an apology in the words of English Gascoigne had taught him.

“Referee,” said the Brazilian his hands probably clasped together, “Fuck off.”

Which is probably why successful clubs employ people to settle players into their new environs and seldom allow the likes of Paul Gascoigne to do the job.

Willy Topp has gone, and it is to the sadness of all that he will not be photographed having a snowball fight with James Hanson or getting up to high jinx with Lee Bullock. There is Omar Daley of course, but for Daley the snow is the skiddy top that allowed Kevin Austin of Darlington rob him of a year of his career with the kind of horror tackle which has also mostly receded into football history but was – at the time – put down to the conditions.

A good reason why we are not going to be going to Aldershot.

Not so Speight

As Bradford City were struggling and failing to snatch a late winner over Accrington on Tuesday evening, 44 miles away down the M62, Jake Speight was netting his first goal for his temporary employers, Port Vale.

The strike itself was nothing to write home about. With Stockport’s former City keeper Matt Glennon seemingly resigned to conceding five goals for the third time already this season and rushing out of his area with three Vale players charging towards him, Speight was presented with an open goal that you and I could have tapped home. But still a first Football League goal since 2007 was a personal achievement and, with City’s efforts to break down Accrington going unrewarded, it also threw up some question marks over why he was playing over at Edgley Park for a team that was about to go top of the league.

Speight’s loan spell has since been extended until January, with Peter Taylor dropping less than subtle hints that his Valley Parade career may already be over. Talking about the fact Speight was not allowed to be cup-tied, the City manager stated, “That doesn’t help his value in that respect.”

With City suddenly struggling for goals – just one goal in their last three games – and with Louis Moult absent from even bench duty at Wycombe and home to Accrington, one might have assumed the expiration of Speight’s one month loan at Vale would see the striker return to the parent club he only signed for during the summer.

No one needs a reminder of the fuss that occurred back then, but Speight had impressed in early season games and appeared firmly in Taylor’s plans. Since 24 minutes from the bench at Barnet, Speight hasn’t figured and the success of James Hanson/Jason Price partnering Omar Daley lifted the Bantams from a dismal start. But still, Speight’s demotion from first team starter to the bench to shut out on loan has taken place in a considerably short space of time.

It would pointless to speculate on what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but Taylor has seemingly made an early judgment for whatever reason and it appears Speight will be departing permanently come January. Meanwhile City have just four strikers on a permanent contract – Hanson, Daley, Gareth Evans and Chibuzor Chilaka – and is relying on the same loan market that led to Speight taking temporary residence at Vale Park to widen his options.

This might seem an odd set of circumstances, but in many ways Taylor deserves credit for the way it appears he is handling the situation. City paid £25k for Speight’s services during the summer. Not a colossal amount of money in modern football terms, but to Bradford City this is still a significant fee. Since 2001 City have only paid transfer fees for three other players – Willy Topp, Evans and Hanson – and are not in a position to write off such an investment and call on further transfer reserves to replace Speight.

Taylor, responsible for signing him, appears to have made an early decision. Rather than allow Speight to rot in the reserves or make do with 10 minutes from the bench here and there, he has allowed a player not in his plans to appear in the shop window through featuring more regularly for one of the best League Two sides. A few more goals and Vale may want to talk about a permanent transfer, or other clubs may even enter a bidding war. Perhaps after all that has gone on, Taylor will be able to recuperate the full transfer fee he paid for a player who proved a headache from day one.

Yet the danger for Taylor is closer to home. If City continue to struggle for goals and Speight starts appearing on the Vale score sheet more frequently, questions will be loudly asked of the manager’s judgment. One only needs to recall the failed gamble of his predecessor Stuart McCall, in shipping an increasingly poor-performing Barry Conlon on loan to Grimsby in March 2009 and bringing in Accrington’s Paul Mullin as a direct replacement. Conlon was reborn for a brief time at Blundell Park, scoring crucial goals that kept the Mariners in the division. Mullin failed to find the net at all, and City slipped out of the play offs.

But that is a short-term concern, and if Taylor has determined Speight is not the player to ignite City’s promotion chances it is best he is performing well for Vale, so City can potentially receive their money back. The number of injuries to the defence has probably already pushed the playing budget to the limit.

If, as the evidence of the last two games suggests, there isn’t enough quality in Taylor’s squad to mount a play off push, the potential injection of capital from selling a player ruled not good enough or perhaps too disruptive to the squad’s morale (there is no evidence to suggest this is the case) could be gratefully received in January.

A footballing evolution

The theory of evolution over creationism may be passionately disputed by some, but in football it seems there’s only one type of advancement which ultimately shapes the natural order of league tables.

Managers create their squad for the coming season during the summer, but it is rarely a seven day miracle. Instead there seems to be a constant narrative they all go through in shaping and evolving their team selection, in an effort to ensure their club achieves its realistic goals. What looked the strongest possible team in August very often doesn’t prove to be the case as the games come thick and fast. Survival of the fittest is often about which manager gets his team selection right the quickest.

One can see the process of evolving the squad after the campaign has got underway in Bradford City’s two most successful recent seasons. The forever-talked about promotion of 1998/99 was delivered by a strong squad, but a disastrous start which saw City regularly beaten if not bettered had manager Paul Jewell changing around the team until it eventually clicked and started producing consistently strong results.

As he surveyed the scene at Molineux having clinched promotion at Wolves, Jewell might have reflected on how the previous August he wouldn’t have expected to have relied so heavily on Robbie Blake, Wayne Jacobs and John Dreyer in order to achieve his goals. Similarly a year after, when Premier League survival was achieved, Jewell’s squad had evolved to the point that previous heroes Blake, Lee Mills and Gareth Whalley were somewhat discarded along the way.

For most teams it doesn’t usually end up so gloriously. Over the course of shaping the squad, managers may discover – self-inflicted or otherwise – that they don’t have the players to fulfil expectations.

Sometimes a team starts perfectly only to fall away, with the manager struggling to work out where it’s going wrong and desperately trying to fix it. Often the solutions are realised too late or are the best of a bad situation. Colin Todd, for example, belatedly managed to shape his 2005-06 City team into a winning one and the club enjoyed a strong end to the season – but it had come too late to change the fact pre-season expectations of a play off spot had not been delivered.

In the modern day and particularly at the top end of football, squads rather than just 11 players are crucial in clubs achieving their aims. Part in response to increased intensity of matches, part due to a higher number of injuries than in the past, teams that succeed can’t afford for the absence of players to undermine their prospects. Of course every team has players they struggle badly without – witness Chelsea’s heavy defeat to Sunderland on Sunday with John Terry and Alex were injured – but never has the team been less about the individuals.

Peter Taylor’s has this season moved Bradford City to as close of a squad game as we’ve ever seen at Valley Parade. So often we’ve welcomed a new batch of players in the summer who’ve shown initial promise; but as the strikers went on goal droughts, the wingers revealed their inconsistency and defenders began to tot up mistakes, the season’s objectives were all too soon not going to be met.

This summer’s recruits by Taylor haven’t all worked out so far – rarely, if ever, in football does a manager not make bad signings – but as his recent evolution efforts have lifted the club out of nosediving form, the benefits of a squad approach are becoming clear. City are progressing through the sum of their parts.

Take the defence as the most obvious example. Convention in football is that you must have a settled back four in order to build understandings and prosper. If and when on-loan Burnley full back Richard Eckersley makes his City debut, he will become the 12th different defender deployed this season. That’s three separate sets of back fours.

Yet while City’s defensive record this season is far from exemplary, they have kept four clean sheets in their last eight league matches – and in another three only conceded one goal each time – despite a whole range of different defenders playing. Even the goalkeeper has changed; but even through so much enforced chopping, the backline has remained largely strong.

And the evolution of tactics has seen some curious changes. In the last two league games on the road – Bury and Wycombe – it’s been notable that the towering Luke Oliver has been instructed to attack any high balls into his penalty area, with central defensive partner Steve Williams (at Bury) and Rob Kiernan (at Wycombe) marking the spare striker and on hand to mop up any Oliver slips. Traditionally we view central defenders as marking a man each, but the effectiveness of Oliver in the air is being used to greater effect. Few would rank him our best defender, but in terms of this role he does it better than anyone.

In midfield we saw previous manager Stuart McCall move away from traditional wingers by lining City up 4-3-3 last season; but despite Taylor restoring 4-4-2 in recent weeks, wingers don’t form part of his set up. For so many previous seasons, City have lived and died by the form of their widemen. The lack of consistency and ease opposition teams can double up on wingers has limited their success. While as England proved so dismally on Wednesday, the use of wingers can leave the centre of midfield overrun.

Taylor hasn’t played out-and-out wingers all season. During those difficult days in August and September, it looked a poor policy as City struggled to create meaningful chances, but now the logic of wide midfielders rather than wingers appears sounder. Lee Hendrie and Tom Adeyemi, widemen of the last two games at least, have been able to come inside and help City become more defensively solid when they don’t have the ball. The more narrow four also encourages closer range passing, which is harnessing the ability of Tommy Doherty.

The closest the Bantams now have to wingers  are the full backs, who have a licence to roam forward knowing the midfield will cover for them.

Not only are the defence and midfield working closer than we’ve seen for many years, the forward line is linking up well with the team. Omar Daley’s City days looked numbered under Taylor, but his impact since moving to a free role playing off the targetman has been terrific. Taylor is not the first manager to deploy Daley up front, David Wetherall moved him up top for the final game of the 2006-07 season, at home to Millwall; but he is the first to ensure Daley’s talents aren’t wasted by being too far up the pitch.

Daley is regularly popping up all over the final third, dropping deep to get the ball and charge at defenders. For the opposition a major problem – who on earth is supposed to mark him?

This switch was a great leap forwards in the team evolutionary progress, because Daley has the space and freedom to take up the wide positions traditional wingers would normally occupy; and, if City played out-and-out wingers, it would probably reduce his effectiveness.

A target man is vital to City’s approach and, with the greatest respect to stand-in Oliver, it’s no coincidence form has truly lifted off after forwards James Hanson and Jason Price became available to perform that role. Hanson’s fitness remains a concern, and so Price has aided the squad approach by being available to stand in when needed.

Like Jewell at Molineux in May 1999, would Taylor have thought his team would look like this last August? We’ve seen Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Gareth Evans, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threlfall and Scott Neilson fall by the wayside, and the best hope Moult and Speight now appear to have of getting in the team is to be able to perform Daley’s free role when he is not available. For Evans the future is surely wide midfielder.

The strength of City’s vast improvement is reflected when looking at the injured list. Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn are big players for this club, but Taylor and the rest of the team have learned to cope admirably. For now things look good, but the competitive nature of League Two means the evolution of City is unlikely to be complete. In time the opposition may formulate effective plans to contain Daley, for example, and there is the very real threat that Lee Hendrie, Tom Adeyemi, Williams and Price will depart in January.

However Taylor’s squad approach – his stated philosophy during the summer of having two players for every position – is so far working. It’s clear he’s brought in players who he didn’t plan to start every week, and the lack of public discontent suggests every player knew the score pre-season.

For the Macclesfield game, the team will remain largely the same to that beaten in unfortunate circumstances by Wycombe last Saturday. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal in front of Zesh Rehman, Oliver, Kiernan and Luke O’Brien. The midfield will see changes with the absence of Doherty, and the smart money is on a David Syers and Adeyemi central partnership with Hendrie and Evans/Leon Osborne wide midfield. As Hanson is still bugged by a slight injury, expect Price to start in what could be – but is highly unlikely to be – his final game on loan, with Daley as a partner.

Potentially as little as three players who started the opening game at Shrewsbury will be in Taylor’s starting XI tomorrow. There are many good reasons for this, with evolution one of the biggest.

Shocking things in the FA Cup

What is an FA Cup shock? Last night FC United of Manchester beat Rochdale and the result was hardly unpredictable. In fact as the masses of disenchanted Mancunians descended on Spotland it seemed to me that it would be more of a surprise if the league club had won.

That is the problem with the FA Cup. Some clubs want it, others don’t, and when you turn up at a game you do not know which of those two your club will be in. If one side does not care as much about the game as they do the league on Saturday then even if you win, you don’t get a good game.

So it was more geography that meant I trotted up to Colchester to watch City and probably the fact that not many City fans were coming down to the game that means I ended up doing this match report. I was fully prepared for seeing a second string from one side or the other and not much of a game. As it was City went into the game with pretty much a full strength side, Omar Daley was out and Louis Moult in, and Colchester seemed to have done similar and the result was a bit of a humdinger of a game.

Colchester took an early lead, City equalised, that happened again and at half time you would have done well to pick who the higher league team were and certainly who the better one was. City seemed a soft touch at the back but in James Hanson have a striker who seems to be on his way to better things. Steve Williams did not finish the game limping off with a quarter of an hour left so any watching scouts from the East Midlands will have gone home early but it is to be hoped that Sven does not see Hanson who scored twice and put in a great troublesome performance.

Moult set up Hanson’s first goal with a nice pass between defenders as the first equaliser and Luke O’Brien set up Hanson’s second and City’s third with a corner. O’Brien also set up David Syers’ goal with a cross too. O’Brien has come on so much under Peter Taylor and like Hanson, Williams and Syers looks like players who will play at a higher level.

Two second half goals from Colchester United tipped the game their way with the second second half goal was a penalty which seemed to leave Peter Taylor fuming and in the end was the difference between the two teams. Luke Oliver seemed to challenge him fairly enough but any challenge in the box is dangerous in modern football. Oliver and Zesh Rehman are so far behind O’Brien and Williams and it shows when City defend.

Modern football does not seem to have much room for the FA Cup any more though. The game was exciting enough but at the end of the day (and after giving it a good go) City were out and Colchester through but it hardly seemed to matter to people. The excitement was not there and the game felt a little but too much like a pre-season friendly than what used to be one of the most exciting games of the year.

Perhaps it is cause City have been to the top and back that trips to Colchester do not inspire but then again Colchester’s fans wandered away from the game without much of a spring in the step. Maybe it is rose tinted glasses but we always used to get more excited by the FA Cup.

No complaints from the players today though

As it was this was an exciting game of football, both teams went for it, and it was not about cup shocks or giant killing or people who or have a day job scoring against professionals all those boring ITV cliches. It was just a proper game of football, and that was a bit of a cup shock for me.

The modern day FA Cup

The FA Cup is back for another season. Cue up that increasingly-grainy footage of shocks from 30 years ago, let us revel once more at Rocket Ronnie’s goal and don’t forget to keep reminding us that the FA Cup is “the greatest competition in the world”. Again and again.

In recent years – and largely due to the permanently sunny outlook ITV Sport always seems to take – we’ve had to get used to a modern day FA Cup cliche. It’s deployed every time something remotely exciting happens as a moment of mini-triumph for the commentator: “Who said the magic of the FA Cup is dead?”, or for a variant “The magic of the FA Cup is well and truly alive.” Either way this competition has magical powers. So don’t question it. Okay?

Of course the magic of the FA Cup has waned in modern times, and anyone who wants to argue it is still the greatest competition on the basis of showing old footage and over-hyping modern day David v Goliath clashes is either foolish or has advertising space to sell. But even if you face up to that reality, it doesn’t mean the FA Cup is dead. More than it needs to stop living in the past.

There are many theories as to why the FA Cup has lost its prestige – the poor attitude of big clubs and too much football on TV the most quoted. But my personal view is that it is the victim of the successful evolving of league football during the past 20 years. In the Premier League the increase to Champions League spots has pushed down the qualification places for the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup). This suddenly makes achieving a European spot a realistic objective for more clubs, with hopes able to stay in tact for most of the season.

And in the Football League, the introduction of the play offs in the mid-80s has also devalued the FA Cup. Every team can tangibly dream of reaching a play off spot, and even if you’re stuck in mid-table come Christmas the possibility of a late surge remains alive. Before the play offs, many teams’ seasons would be over before January and, as long as they weren’t in relegation trouble, there’d be nothing to play for with over a half a season left. So the FA Cup meant much more.

In short, the death of midtable meaningless across English football’s four divisions has killed the prestige of the FA Cup. And it’s time traditionalists stopped ignoring the facts and gave up banging on about the so-called magic, so the FA Cup can also evolve for the modern day. The resurgence in popularity of the League Cup in recent years should act as inspiration.

All of this ignores the fact that, for Bradford City at least, this should be considered a special year for the FA Cup. This club doesn’t have an especially successful history to be proud of, but a century ago this season came the Bantams’ finest hour as they defeated Newcastle United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup. Numerous special events are planned to commemorate the landmark, including a new City book to look forward to. It is right to celebrate such an achievement which, in the modern day, looks so absurdly unlikely the club will ever repeat, but how big an appetite there is for a worthy FA Cup run this season to honour that past is debatable.

Tomorrow City begin their FA Cup campaign at Colchester, and with league form suddenly taking off this tie is in truth an unwelcome distraction. Ask pretty much every City fan if they’d rather win tomorrow or at Wycombe in the league next Saturday and yet another early exit would be gladly sacrificed for the chance to close the gap on the play offs. Sure, we’d love to get to the third round and the chance to play David to a Premier League club, but not at the expense of it distracting the players from the all important bread and butter stuff.

Manager Peter Taylor is likely to make some changes given a busy week and important league matches to come, but with momentum so important in football it’s hoped his selection won’t differ too greatly from the side which is building understandings and has won four out of five games. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal and, with injuries to Shane Duff, Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, expect the same back four which has kept City consecutive clean sheets for the first time since May. Robbie Threlfall could, however, be afforded a first start since getting injured against Gillingham in September.

In midfield Lee Hendrie may not be risked as a minor knock has kept him out of the games at Burton and Bury. Expect Tommy Doherty – still struggling with an injury – to join him in sitting this one out. Doherty’s influence is growing with each game, but the minor complaints from some fans are also being maintained.

After Saturday’s accomplished display he was criticised for lack of pace, on Tuesday the fact he failed to acknowledge us visiting supporters as we chanted his name when he was subbed has caused a bizarrely-angry reaction from a minority. If memory serves me correct, Doherty is yet to speak publicly since signing during the summer and appears to be a shy, retiring sort of fella rather than an arrogant prat who believes he is above thanking his supporters.

Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne will likely continue on the flanks, with David Syers possibly joined by the forgotten Lee Bullock in the centre. Almost unnoticed and way ahead of predictions, Gareth Evans returned to the bench on Tuesday after getting injured last month. With the success of the strikers, it appears Evans’ most likely route to a regular starting place is a wide midfield spot, probably for Osborne.

Up front on-loan Jason Price and Louis Moult have been cleared to play and Taylor may favour this partnership to give Omar Daley a breather and to allow James Hanson to continue his recovery from injury. Chibuzor Chilaka will also be pressing for a first start, but after Moult’s first goal last week it would be cruel not to give him a go.

League One Colchester are going great guns and in superb form – so an early exit from the FA Cup seems likely for City. That is hardly the way to honour the heroes of 1911; but the modern day view to take is that the best way to recognise this centenary would not be a cup run but to achieve success in the league.

Where does one see Bradford?

A view which normally shows Bradford, but is foggy, taken this morning on 8th of October 2010Waking this morning in Bradford and looking out over the City one could not notice – as the photo shows – that something was missing. Indeed Bradford, it seemed, had gone.

From the back window of Clayton you can normally see Lister’s Chimney and the view over BD8 but not Valley Parade which as the name suggests is under the eye line, hidden from view.

One has to wonder what has been going on hidden from view at Valley Parade this week. A defeat to Hartlepool United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came almost without a blip so expected was it after the woeful 1-0 loss to Morecambe at the weekend. Peter Taylor was linked to a move for Calvin Zola – Calvin Zola is not coming – and TalkSport and the Daily Mirror both noted that this weekend’s game was win or bust for the City manager of six months.

Despite the board of many and the co-ownership it seems that Mark Lawn will be the one to make that decision. Lawn famously said that he “had 2,000,000 more reasons to be frustrated” than other City fans and if one agrees to the idea that the more you have money the more you can care about your football club then one can only imagine how Lawn feels watching the things he has put into place to replace Stuart McCall that should have worked failing so miserably now.

Say what you want about McCall’s exit – and we have all said lots – but Lawn’s recruitment of Peter Taylor was a clear way forward and an outstanding appointment of a manager with a great track record. One might argue the length of the contract has caused problems or that the failure to get training facilities sorted out are restrictive to what the manager can do but few would say they should be the cause of a woeful run of form.

Would City be in any different position now if Lawn had given Taylor a five year contract not a three month one? Perhaps, but as Lawn – we are told – is considering paying out Taylor’s contract then the brevity of it becomes useful in this situation at least.

Taylor’s team take on Barnet who struggle at the foot of League Two also. Jon McLaughlin has kept goal no better and no worse than Simon Eastwood did but is more favoured and perhaps that says much about the nature of support at City. What is an offence one season may not be the next.

Reece Brown is not expected to return from injury to be right back so Zesh Rehman will continue while Oliver Gill is supposedly enforced at left back. Shane Duff is expected to return from injury to partner Steve Williams in the middle of Taylor’s defence. Lee Bullock will sit on top of them with Tommy Doherty expected to return alongside him.

If it is win of bust for Taylor then he should probably play Doherty. A weak midfield will lose the game and thus his job and so it will hardly matter if Doherty misses the first game of Dean Windass, Peter Jackson or whomever’s time in charge.

Michael Flynn’s recovery from injury came to a grinding halt at Hartlepool United where his hernia which was thought cleared turned out not to be after his substitute appearance. Lee Hendrie will fall in as the left hand midfielder – let us not say “wide man” and Omar Daley is expected to play on the right with Taylor adopting a 4411 as strikers appear at a premium.

Luke O’Brien seemingly is out of both the midfield running and left back. It is said that there are players in the dressing room who would not be upset to see the back of Taylor but that O’Brien is not one of them. Such shows great restraint by a player who has been ousted from the City team so often. Tom Ademeyi seems to float in and out of the side with little reference to his performance. Leon Osbourne and Robbie Threlfall both seem to have had time in the team which has come to an end.

Luke Oliver will no doubt lead the forward line and while I would not concur with the idea that he should not do that because he is “out of position” – few would have complained if midfielder Flynn had been fit enough to take the position in the attack – the fact that Oliver struggles to play the role effectively is a problem. Calvin Zola was rumoured to be arriving and did not and as Peter Taylor looked around the world of football for a striker to borrow his vision was as blank as the fogged look over Bradford this morning.

James Hanson edges closer to fitness and perhaps Taylor might be able to risk him, Gareth Evans is out for three months. Taylor”s inability to get the levels of performance out of Evans that they player is capable of minimises the effect of this – he was not playing well – but as a player he can do and the frustration of watching good players play badly under Taylor is epic.

City have gone four games without a goal and Taylor has a selection of strikers for the the role off the main striker. Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Chib Chilaka. Name the striker and he is not scoring enough goals. The net seemingly fogged for Bradford City.

Peter Taylor will hope to cut through that fog, to get the win, to extend his stay at the club which looks increasingly like it will be coming to an end with the next defeat. Should that be the case then Mark Lawn’s view at the future at Valley Parade would be as fogged as the view from it.

Where would we go next?

Injury to Evans continues Taylor’s problems

Gareth Evans has been ruled out for three months following Saturday’s intersection with an adversing board leaving Peter Taylor scrambling for attacking options.

James Hanson is thought to be weeks rather than months from fitness while Michael Flynn – often used in an attacking role by Taylor in his early games at the club – played against Hartlepool United in the 1-0 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat last night.

Flynn came on for Omar Daley who adds to the attacking options which also include fit again Leon Osborne, Louis Moult – a player who is said to be enjoying his time at Valley Parade not one bit – and Jake Speight who on arrival at half time on Saturday as a replacement for Luke Oliver to rapturous applause seemed to suggest that the morality issue surrounding him on his signing for the club has now been given a perspective by some City fans.

Recalling the calls for Speight to be sacked at the start of the season the applause perhaps means “Beating up women is bad, but not as bad as being Luke Oliver.”

Oliver – like Flynn – is used nominally out of position as a striker although perhaps it is the success of Flynn’s performances that sees the one criticised and the other not. Either way it seems that Oliver’s time up front is coming to an end with Taylor reported to be signing Crewe’s former Newcastle and Tranmere striker Calvin Zola on loan this week.

Zola has attracted interest from Burton Albion and Southend but is expected to join City. The player cost £200,000 from Tranmere Rovers and was impressive enough last season to see Peterborough United offer £1m for him. Crewe – under the returning manager Dario Gradi – have returned to the passing football which City have turned away from.

Scorer of an impressive goal at Valley Parade last season Zola would seem a perfect fit for a loanee at Valley Parade but – should he be a success – finding the money to sign him would be not only difficult but also a huge backing by the board of manager Peter Taylor.

Should Zola not arrive then David Wetherall’s reserve side offers the sizeable Darren Stephenson who could be asked to step up to the first team. It also offers Chib Chilaka who is raw for sure but has strength. Chilaka’s impact since arriving may perhaps be measured by the fact that the first version of this article simply forgot him.

So Taylor’s fit options for the role of target man are the raw Chib Chilaka, out of positions Oliver or Flynn, the reserve Stephenson and – should he sign – Zola while his choices for the two play off roles are Daley, Osbourne, Speight, Moult and Lee Hendrie – the midfielder failing to get defensive side of the ball enough to suggest that he might be better dropping back from the attack rather than coming forward from the midfield.

However another defeat without scoring demands a response from Taylor and the exit of Evans helps him not. If a combination is not found soon, and the lack of goals continue, then one would be excused to ask what the much trumpeted management skills of Taylor are for if it is not this problem?

Thinking in three months blocks as City face Hartlepool

A lot can happen in three months at a football club.

Three months ago Luke O’Brien faced an uncertain future at Valley Parade when – three months previous – Peter Taylor had arrived at the club and signed a player who had been scouted by Stuart McCall in Robbie Threlfall and the former Liverpool loanee had won his place in the Bradford City team.

The local left back was given a standing ovation for warming up on Saturday – an acknowledgement from supporters who thought his being dropped for Manchester United loanee Oliver Gill – which is a far cry from the criticism that the player was given when Threlfall arrived. O’Brien had – some supporters attested to – been embarrassed by the new signing, probably wished he has a contract and had a future at Guiseley perhaps.

How times have changed.

Indeed three months of loan play at Bradford City and Threlfall was coveted in the Summer but with the rider that City would never be able to land the player from Liverpool. His signing – three months ago – was a part of a series of arrivals that saw City supporters and the wider football public start tagging Peter Taylor’s Bradford City as favourites for League Two.

The past three months have seen Taylor’s stock diminish in a way that few would have thought possible on his arrival but that some worried it would after his initial three months at the club. Taylor’s football at the end of last season was dour but carried on along the same average points achievement as the previous manager had struggled to better and it was assumed that those were the seeds out of which an oak of promotion would grow.

Three months ago Taylor gave Bradford City’s board a list of requirements which could see the club improve on the field. Taylor wanted a flatter pitch, a more professional attitude and new training facilities and while the ground is flat and the players are now wearing very nice suits the plan to move to Weetwood fell through. Three months of the dog poo uneven pitch of Apperley Bridge has perhaps shown that Taylor’s judgement was correct – City did need to sort out the training facilities if they were going to progress.

So perhaps three months down the line of working in a situation which he did not to – Taylor, it is believed, would not have joined City were his demands not met – perhaps the manager will turn to the board in any one of the rumoured “emergency summits” at the club and tell that that he cannot be held liable for failures that he has given the solution for, but that solution has not been put into practice.

What Taylor can be held responsible for is the way that the Bradford City team have been playing which after three months is grinding on the eye. If the first three months at the end of last season seemed like a long time it did – at least – end with decent run that avoided the worst finish for the club since 1966. The fact that this last three months has seen City amass only eight points from ten games with a won one, lost one cup record has caused the time to drag.

The season has seemed a very long time indeed. Taylor was brought into the club not to play pretty football or to be friendly with the players – indeed these were cited as negatives about the previous manager – but to get results.

When people talk about the attractiveness of the football then people speak out of place (although one might agree with them) because the winning side in the argument over Stuart McCall established an idea that “you can’t keep a manager because of sentiment”. That those people will not stand up for Taylor and tell people who go dewy eyed for watching a City team under McCall which tried to play football and did so with vigour and energy is (on the whole) a character flaw on their part but should not count against the manager who has a single remit: promotion; and until that remit it unachievable should carry on with the full backing of all.

You, or indeed I, might not like that idea but such is the non-sentimental view that was allowed to take hold at Valley Parade when some fans and some people in the boardroom decided that they wanted to oust Stuart McCall as manager. They won the day (if not the argument) and to them the spoils.

Three months ago saying these thoughts would have provoked the ire of the club. David Baldwin interceded on a Telegraph and Argus message board argument, The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for suggesting that the Bantams would finish 8th in the table (one wonders how many in the Valley Parade boardroom would take Mike up on his offer if it could be made so right now) and should you believe the rumours City’s Football in the Community Officer and weekend wireless pundit Ian Ormondroyd was given a forty five minute grilling by his superiors because he was not enthusiastic enough on his radio commentary.

One can imagine Mark Lawn’s frustrations at Ormondroyd, Harrison et al and he is left looking foolish at his insistence that City followers be positive about the football which has seen City in the lowest position many, if not all, can recall and he might ask how was he to know that Taylor’s team would be performing so poorly three months into the season.

Indeed three months previously the appointment of Taylor was heralded by many (including me) as “outstanding.” Indeed were one to line up the runners and riders for the Bradford City job post-Stuart McCall then the pragmatic, experienced Taylor who had significantly achieved success and repeated that success. Would still be the best choice.

Lawn gave Taylor a three month contract and then – after that initial three months – a one year deal which represented promotion or bust for the manager and much has been talked about that in the situation that City currently find themselves in but perhaps it might be worth considering those first three months.

Taylor’s side did not excel at the end of last year and the football was seldom good to watch. The manager was abrasive then and had the same way with the media as he does now. After three months of working with Peter Taylor Mark Lawn decided that he was worth a one year contract.

Consider that for the moment.

Lawn had the longest trial period for a manager in Bradford City’s history on which to judge the replacement for a manager he spend half a season seething about and planning to replace. It was – perhaps – the most considered managerial change the club has ever had and ten league games later we are where we are and – it is said – that “the board” have given Taylor two games/a month to improve or face the sack.

Having had three months working with him, and a good few months thinking about who he would replace Stuart McCall with, sacking Peter Taylor would be the single greatest statement of failure Mark Lawn could make. It would make the most significant act of his joint chairmanship an utter failure, and absolute failure and one which would totally question any qualifications he has to make another similar decision in the future.

If after working with Taylor for three months Lawn offered him a contract (and that is the way it appears externally) and now wants to rip up that contract then how can he be trusted by the rest of the board to be involved in a similar recruitment process again? In three months time if Bradford City do have a new manager then one has to hope that someone else has made the appointment.

However in three months time things might have turned around totally.

Taylor is on the low ebb of a ten game bad run but bad runs are not uncommon in football and had he had won over eighty points and then in the last ten games limped over the line to promotion after eight points in the last ten games then few would suggest he should be sacked (although some, no doubt, would) which is in effect what happened to Keith Hill at Rochdale last season.

Hill’s wheels falling off the wagon at the end of last term was as unexpected as Taylor’s side suddenly getting two points a game or more for the rest of the season but if such a thing happened then both teams would have had losing runs – one at the start of the season and one at the end.

So should the club turn around then perhaps it should do it tonight in the Associate Members Trophy at Hartlepool United where Peter Taylor is expected to field a side which differs from the eleven who started on Saturday – one would struggle to dub that “the first team” – and could give any number of players chances to win back favour.

O’Brien and Threlfall may both hope to be fielded although word has it that Oliver Gill has been guaranteed a place as a part of his loan deal from Manchester United. The same could be true of Reece Brown at right back.

Michael Flynn looks set to play some part although Tommy Doherty – injured but on the bench on Saturday – is not expected to play. Chib Chilaka might hope to replace Luke Oliver in the forward line, one wonders if Oliver’s favours stretch to this competition.

On the whole though City’s problem is not one of personnel – there are very few that would agree with the assessment two sets of three months ago that Stuart McCall’s legacy was a group of poor players when players like Gareth Evans have gone from bulldog exciting to stolid woe under Taylor – but of attitude. Players like Louis Moult are in the running for a place although the Stoke striker is said to be counting the days until he can go home.

The entire squad is peopled with players who could perform better but are not doing. Three months ago I suggested that the mark of Taylor as a manager was in how much of a performance he got from Zesh Rehman. A player with pedigree he represented raw materials which I expected the manager to sculpt in a way that his predecessor could not. To smooth edges and motivate, to bring back to the path of progress and to get the best out of.

Rehman is benched for a Manchester United reserve despite two other right back injuries. Tonight he is the very type of player who might get a chance to show Taylor what he can do and in doing so preserve Taylor’s job and reputation.

Three months ago few would have thought that.

Taking the next steps

As Peter Taylor substituted Louis Moult to widespread boos and groans two-thirds of the way into Bradford City’s eventual win over Gillingham last week, it was tempting to ponder just how long the City manager will be around to make such unpopular decisions.

This was the second home game in a row a substitution by Taylor was booed by some fans; and in the other two league home games there was the half time chant directed at him to “sort it out” against Southend, and booing the team off in victory against Stevenage.

Unlike his predecessor, Stuart McCall, Taylor is clearly not someone readily prepared to blame himself and believe those questioning him are right to do so, and one can speculate whether the reason his assistant Wayne Jacobs was sent out to face the media after the game was due to anger at having his decisions questioned once more.

A frosty relationship between manager and many supporters is beginning to develop.

The frustration last Saturday stemmed from the fact it was Moult rather than Luke Oliver taken off by Taylor. After a fairly anonymous start to his six-month loan stint at Valley Parade, the Stoke striker was finally beginning to show glimpses of his potential and was one of a handful of influential players helping City to get on top in the second half. Oliver meanwhile looked clumsy and awkward, the wrong man in the right place of City’s increasingly-frequent attacks. The sight of Gareth Evans ready to come on told us the hook was coming, but in many fans eyes Taylor was taking off the wrong man.

Football coaches often talk about the importance of going back-to-basics when things go wrong. If, for example, a midfielder produces a poor pass, he is encouraged to make sure he tries something much simpler the next time he receives possession, so he can quickly build up confidence again. When a team is on a run like City have been, it’s understandable Taylor would want to take a back-to-basics approach to selection and tactics. Start getting points on the board, then build up again from there.

Taylor’s approach against Gillingham strongly suggested going back-to-basics. Without James Hanson and after a loan striker turned down a move, the deployment of Oliver up front was all about better-retaining possession in the final third so the team as a whole could gain greater territorial advantage. Oliver was instructed to win and hold up the ball, thus bringing others into the game. Not fantastic to watch maybe, but effective. Basic you might say.

I personally believe Taylor got a better performance from his players than he’d dared hoped, particularly in the second half when Lee Hendrie’s introduction sparked more attacking impetuous and saw City gain a lot more joy from passing it through – rather than over – the visitors.

But this improvement suddenly made the tactic of Oliver up front far less effective, and what City really needed was a forward more comfortable in possession and who could make intelligent runs. The moment where Hendrie dribbled past a couple of players and produced a perfectly weighted through ball for Oliver, only for the tall defender to fail to control it with just the keeper to beat, summed up the sudden problem.

So like others I was willing Taylor to take off Oliver. And although I did not boo, I did groan and feel deflated when Moult was hauled off instead. This was surely a moment where Taylor could have been braver, shown more belief in the way his team was playing. But in the back of his mind perhaps was the risk of Gillingham scoring and City needed to go long ball in the final 10 minutes, where Oliver would have been needed.

But after so many times a City manager has been unjustly slated for his tactics when City have lost a game, Taylor ultimately deserves a lot of credit for the fact his tactics and substitutions ultimately delivered three valuable points.

As City head to Northampton this weekend, it will be interesting to see how much Taylor changes things around to build on the basics which have slowly started to come together since the season’s low point of the 2-0 loss to Southend. Both Hanson and Michael Flynn – another target man option – are not expected to be fit in time, so the chances of Oliver continuing up front would appear high.

But it should be recalled that arguably the best football City have played under Taylor so far, the final five games of last season, saw a 4-3-3 formation employed without a target man. This worked well because of the running and link up of Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. It is that level of football City now aspire to reach again, and to which Taylor could consider evolving the back-to-basics approach from and look to employ at Sixfields.

Oliver’s move up the pitch enabled Steve Williams to return to the central defence against Gillingham, and the impressive display he and the fast-improving Shane Duff produced would suggest Oliver may have to join Zesh Rehman on the bench at some point in the near future. With Jon McLaughlin also looking more composed during the last two games, Taylor is moving closer towards a solid defence which has acted as the bedrock of his previous promotion-winning teams

At full backs, however, there are plenty of unresolved issues. Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall have both attracted a lot of criticism for their efforts this season, but in many ways they are in excellent company as I struggle to recall many City full backs over the years who were not slated at some point.

In terms of Hunt, the criticism he’s receiving has to be balanced by the fact he is a second choice right back at a fourth division club. The wage allocated for this role isn’t going to be high, and so Taylor is limited in the options and ability he could bring in. Meanwhile Threlfall had a shocker at Shrewsbury on the opening day, and hasn’t recovered.

Luke O’Brien, who’s had his own dips of form, is arguably playing his best football of his career so far. The Gillingham half time switch around that saw Threlfall replaced and O’Brien moved to left back is surely likely to be continued while Threlfall rebuilds his confidence. But let’s not forget it is his form, rather than ability, which is the problem.

In midfield there are suddenly stronger options when a fortnight ago it looked a major problem area. Lee Bullock picked up the sponsors man of the match last week and his return to form benefited Tommy Doherty; while the arrival of Hendrie further brought the best out of both. For now Hendrie will probably remain on the bench, or start the game and be taken off, as he builds fitness. David Syers is beginning to look the part and should be fit to start; Omar Daley has been an unused sub for the last two games, and the Jamaican’s future is beginning to look bleak.

Up front there remains a troubling lack of goals, and the poor form of Evans and tentativeness of Moult leaves Taylor with some difficult decisions. Osborne’s first meaningful appearance of the season last week attracted derision, but his form at the end of last season showed promise and it would be worth getting behind the player – who has emerged through the ranks, remember – rather than writing him off so prematurely. For now at least Oliver classes as a forward option.

Northampton are fresh from incredible cup exploits over Liverpool, but in every other way will hopefully be stale. Taylor had joked about asking Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee to make sure the game went to extra time, and the fact Clobbers’ players were on the floor with cramp towards the end of their penalty shoot out win would suggest the Bantams will carry a fitness advantage from no midweek action.

City have so far lost two and drawn one on their travels, and though it is still early days the points return from the trips to Northampton on Saturday and Rotherham on Tuesday will say a lot about the team prospects for the rest of the season. A four-point haul would set City up nicely for upcoming easier-looking games and a climb up the table during autumn.

Achieve that and, come winter, it’s hoped the only frost we’ll be talking about is the stuff which forms on the ground, rather than the nature of the feelings heading towards and from the Valley Parade dugout.

The mood that cannot be shifted

It lasted a few short seconds, its ramifications will be felt for at least another week.

There were just 12 minutes left to play and Bradford City, leading 1-0, conceded a corner. Then, crucially, they switched off for a few seconds as they slowly ambled back, and quick-thinking from two Stockport players saw the corner played short and hurriedly whipped into the box. The Bantams had now woken up to the danger and were racing back to mark players, but it was too late. George Donnelly was able to meet the ball unchallenged and head it emphatically beyond Jon McLaughlin.

Two points criminally thrown away, after little more than a couple of seconds of madness.

That Donnelly’s goal clinched a draw his side more than deserved was no consolation. Draws where you lose the lead are always much less satisfying, and the frustration at surrendering a hard-earned winning position will now contribute to another week of misery and self-pity. The message boards will be full of abuse for certain players, the manager and the chairmen. It matters little this draw stopped the rot of four straight defeats, patience is in far too short a supply.

This was neither an especially good or bad performance from City – but it was a team display chronically bereft of confidence. Balls too often launched long from the back, a lack of creativeness in the final third. Arguments raged between players on several occasions, no one seemed capable or willing to show leadership and take the game by the scruff of the neck. No one wanted to be the one who messed up, when instead they should have been looking to be the hero. Not a fun game to play in, not a fun game to watch.

City’s first half performance was particularly poor and more quality from Stockport would have seen City’s edginess punished. County enjoyed plenty of possession and worked the ball around outside City’s penalty area sprightly. But tellingly in the box, they were as toothless as the Bantams have been all season. Barry Conlon, booed as usual, had one of his off days we remember all to vividly. McLaughlin was kept occupied by easily catchable crosses and a couple of tame shots.

But as we City fans endured a black humour-inducing drenching in the roofless away end during half time – where, unlike two years ago, common sense eventually prevailed and we were allowed to move to an empty stand with a roof – manager Peter Taylor’s words in the dressing room seemed to inspire a reaction from his players, who emerged with far greater urgency.

Half time at Stockport

Getting soaked at half time. Click on photo to view enlarged version.

On 56 minutes, Jake Speight brilliantly turned his marker and charged into the box, got back to his feet – after seemingly been kicked from behind – and rolled the ball into the path of the onrushing David Syers, who tapped City into the lead. Only the third league goal all season, and after his Notts Forest cup strike it makes the young midfielder the Bantams’ top scorer.

It was a goal undeserved on the balance of play, but then Southend and Port Vale’s opening goals in the last two games hadn’t been deserved at the point they crossed the line. City were defending reasonably well – Lewis Hunt and Shane Duff having their best games to date – and there was every reason to believe they could hold on for an ugly win. Though an underbelly of uncertainty led them to players dropping further and further back, without showing any intellect towards hitting County on the break.

But still as long as they continue to concentrate we’ll be okay, right?

After Donnelly’s equaliser City actually showed greater application and attacked with more frequency, even if ex-Bantam Matt Glennon was only troubled by a long range effort from Tommy Doherty. Speight continued to look lively, though City’s two star performers were wide midfielders Syers and Luke O’Brien. The latter in particular was excellent going forwards and embarked on several promising dribbles. The best moment where he beat three players and raced into the box, before what looked set to be a stunning winner was foiled by a last ditch block as he pulled the trigger.

But neither O’Brien or any teammate was able to snatch a second goal that would have lifted the mood, and instead the gloom remains and the pressure going into the home game with Gillingham on Saturday will be that much higher. There are slow signs of progress, and to at least come off the Edgeley Park unbeaten is something to build on. But even though it’s early days, time is running out.

Rumours have already reached BfB’s ears that certain people are eying up a potential managerial vacancy at Valley Parade, but to make a change now risks writing off the season far too early given how often recent history shows a change of manager makes very little short-term difference. And as attendances continue to drop and self-pity among remaining supporters is allowed to be indulged, the club can’t afford another season of nothingness.

The last two games may have only provided small things to build on, but that doesn’t mean we should kick it all down.

Instead, we must remember what’s missing. Stockport were the better team today, simply because their impressive number 4 Paul Turnbull was able to run the midfield and ensure his team enjoyed far greater possession. City’s number 4 is some two weeks away, and Michael Flynn’s return will make a huge difference to a central midfield which still came up short – largely due to a poor performance from Lee Bullock.

Jake Speight is looking an excellent prospect, but his game would benefit greatly from a stronger striker alongside him. James Hanson is further away from fitness and Taylor can’t afford to wait; his planned loan signing for this week has to be someone who can hold up the ball and bring the best out of Speight. Gareth Evans struggled again, but if you want to criticise Taylor today his decision to replace him with the ineffective Louis Moult should be the place to start. When City needed to hold onto the ball, the inexperienced Moult was not the player the team needed.

And as the defence continues to carry at least one mistake in them, the eventual return of Simon Ramsden will prove a massive boost.

These are three big players for City. And if Man City’s Roberto Mancini and Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp can appear on national radio and blame poor results on missing a few key players when they have both spent massive amounts building a squad – as they both did minutes after full time at Edgeley Park – why should City’s injury list be discounted?

Sadly for Taylor, City’s top three performers from last season won’t be fit in time for Gillingham. The last two games have featured as close to a settled side as he has put out so far this campaign. It is largely they who must turn around this increasingly desperate situation – and it needs be a challenge they relish rather than dread.

In an excellent Stockport pub before kick off, a Manchester United supporter reminisced with me about the time he watched his beloved Red Devils play at Valley Parade 10 years ago, where City were 18 minutes and a Gary Walsh miss-kick away from securing a credible draw. But let’s stop looking at the past and shaking our heads at how bad we’ve had it since. Let’s stop believing our heritage deserves us higher status.

Today’s goal was a joy because it was crafted two players who’d overcome considerable setbacks to be playing professional football, Speight and Syers. They have triumphed where millions of us have failed, after it looked as though they had failed too, largely through hard work and overcoming  set backs.

So let’s follow Speight and Syer’s example and not just deliberate how low we’ve sunk, but consider how far we can climb.

I know there was a dog

Those familiar with the work of Charles Schultz – or Aaron Sorkin – will know of the satirical nature of Peanuts characters Charlie Brown and Lucy the the boy’s attempt to kick an American football.

For the initiated Lucy holds the ball and Charlie Brown goes to kick it but at the last minute Lucy pulls it away and Charlie Brown ends up kicking air and falling over yet Lucy is able to convince Charlie Brown that next time he tries to kick the ball she will not pull it away and he will not fall on his backside but she always does and he always does.

Its so sad, eventually in life everything becomes routine

At Bradford City there is a similar routine which began in earnest last weekend in which the Lucy convinces all that a swing at the ball that is sacking the manager will not result in the club falling on its backside but it always does. Following a proper rotten start to the season Peter Taylor has started to gather a band of critics who look to convince all that they should take another run at the football.

Taylor spent most of the week in a fury. Early on he was angry at the way his players were treated by supporters who booed Tommy Doherty after the midfielder’s mistake cost a goal against Port Vale but then he was angry at rumours he had fallen out with Mark Lawn and offered to leave should be be paid off.

That anger faded and was replaced by an anger at The Jamaican FA for flying Omar Daley around the world only to give him an hour of football – City will now no longer play ball with the Caribbean side – and perhaps it was a week of fury that tired out the manager who could barely muster a disappointment at not being able to recruit a loan striker.

Taylor is hopeful of a new face up front to cover James Hanson who is injured for another three weeks but with Gareth Evans, Jake Speight and Louis Moult all fit – as well as Daley and Leon Osbourne to call on – one wonders if Taylor does not have enough up front as City face Stockport County at Edgeley Park.

The strikers are having a curious time of it at the moment at City. Evans’s penalty against Stevenage is the only winner the club have scored in the League this year but Speight has impressed with performances. Moult is – well – not often on the field and as often is the case this seems to be the greatest qualification for a place in the starting eleven.

“I can’t believe he plays Evans over Moult” expressed one irritated soul who must see something in Moult that suggests that the almost non-corporeal endeavours of the Stoke loanee thus far will translate into some huge effect were his given a starting role. The players who are not in the team always seem the solution to the problem but as England wrapped up 4-0 and 3-1 wins using the majority of the players who featured in the 4-1 defeat to Germany perhaps we should treat those concepts with scepticism.

Not that the problems that Taylor has at City are as obviously solvable as England’s – there is no Lampard to drop – and should Taylor deploy Evans leading the line and Speight behind him dropping to a four man midfield when he risks once again sending out a side ill equipped to attack.

The two flank players of Luke O’Brien and David Syers – who should be fit from injury – offered little in the way of traditional attacking play and the middle two of Doherty and Tom Adeyemi have yet to take a game but the scruff of the midfield and there in an increasing worry (aside from the “Doherty is rubbish!” worry that is generally scoffed at by anyone with half a brain) that Ademeyi does not yet have the wherewithal to cope with a robust League Two midfield battle. A switch between Syers and Adeyemi seems possible, if unexplored thus far.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Robbie Threlfall at left back the former Liverpool man hoping that he will never have an afternoon like last week again the best of which can be said that at least he kept involved in the game. The partnership between Luke Oliver and Shane Duff seems to be on borrowed time at the back and Steve Williams appears a superior choice for either. Jon McLauglin continues in goal creating an amusing contrast to Simon Eastwood last season. Fans slaughtered while the manager defended Eastwood, with McLauglin something like the opposite occurs.

Taylor’s side need a win of course – when do football clubs ever not need a win – and one wonders how loud the calls for the manager to be out on his backside will reach should that win not be forthcoming. Perhaps they will be drowned out by a deep sigh of resignation and the words “Oh Good Grief.”

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

Time for Plan A?

As Saturday approaches I have begun my usual guessing game over what team Peter Taylor will choose.

Stuart McCall was criticised on many occasions last season for not having a ‘Plan B’ Taylor it appears has got a plan C, D and E. With the season only a handful of games old Taylor has already used 20 outfield players- that would quite possibly be more had Michael Flynn and Leon Osbourne not been missing through injury- and also 4 different skippers. Taylor has explained his high rotation of players and his reasoning is fair. Firstly he says does not yet know his best side and secondly there have been a high number of games in a short space of time, two of which have gone to extra time and therefore he has looked to give players a rest. However, with 4 games of the season gone, with only 1 win and 8 days since the last game surely now we will see what Taylor believes to be his strongest side.

The only player that has begun every game is Jon McLaughlin and although he was called into question by Taylor following the Torquay match he still remains first choice. There is no doubting that he is talented, assured and confident between the stick and it appears he will not let any previous mistakes affect him too easily. But he is young and needs not only some experience in front of him but consistency too.

Unfortunately his most experienced defender and club captain, Simon Ramsden has had his involvement limited by injury. This has seen his understudy, Lewis Hunt step into the vacant position and he has performed adequately, but no more than adequate. Hunt to me seems a more than able replacement for our consistent captain and yet at the same time his lacklustre, relaxed approach to the game leaves me thinking he could be a lot more than adequate.

In the first game against Shrewsbury he did not appear to be fit, which was unfortunately exaggerated as he tried to handle the impressive Ainsworth. In the following games he still appears to amble over to the touchline whenever he is required to take a throw in, rarely appears to be willing to receive the ball and as far as I can remember has never created an overlap for his winger. In fairness to Hunt we do not know what his instructions have been from Peter Taylor and he may well be ordered to be so conservative and concentrate on his defending- a job which he performs very capably. Even so I can’t help but hope we see a fit Ramsden taking the field again before too long.

The other 3 slots across the back 4 have not had had reduced options through injury and yet are still chopped and changed. I am a firm believer that an understanding between the defence and goalkeeper needs to be established from playing together regularly. How often did you see Sir Alex Ferguson line his side up without Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister when both were available, or Wenger without Tony Adams and Martin Keown or even Mourinho without John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

Those partnerships were part of some the most successful defences in the Premier League’s history because they were exactly that. Each player knew what their partner was going to do and their goalkeeper behind also created that same understanding be it Schmeichel, Seaman or Cech. Something our current number one Jon McLaughlin must do with whoever plays in front of him. I don’t doubt the ability of any of our current centre backs but all of them will play the game differently and if McLaughlin has a consistent partnership in front of him then that will allow him to become more confident in his decision making knowing what his two defenders in front are most likely to do.

So far it appears to be any 3 from Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Shane Duff for the two centre half roles with last season’s captain Zesh Rehman providing back up. I was never a huge fan of Rehman last year, but do feel as though he became a lot more assured and solid when Taylor took over towards the end of the season and is possibly a little unfortunate to be overlooked. For me Steve Williams is a rough diamond and has the potential to play at a higher level. I would compare him to a lower league Rio Ferdinand in his style of play. However, much like Rio Ferdinand at the beginning of his career he is still inexperienced, still learning and prone to a mistake. For that reason I would suggest he needs an experienced, vocal leader alongside him. Luke Oliver, unfortunately, does not possess those qualities and although he appears to be Taylor’s favoured option – he has started every league game so far – I would still favour Duff. I do not base this so much on my own observations of Duff due to the limited amount of opportunity I have had to watch him but more on my second hand knowledge of the player from Taylor himself.

When Duff was signed Taylor acknowledged that it was because he felt that Williams and Oliver did not have enough league football experience and Duff has racked up almost double the amount of league appearances that Williams and Oliver have combined. Further, Taylor described him as a ‘good leader’ in the mould of Tony Adams. It is for those qualities that I consider him to be the perfect partner for Williams.

Left back is also a position that is very much in the balance with a decision to be made between two very different players. Robbie Threlfall probably began the season as the favourite after impressing on loan last season. He’s tall, and can boast of an extremely sweet left foot but has been found out at the beginning of this season while the smaller, quicker Luke O’Brien has impressed. Unfortunately, despite getting himself in promising positions O’Brien’s final ball and decision making in the final third leaves something to be desired.

Still if he could cross a ball like Threlfall he probably wouldn’t be playing for Bradford City. It is possible that following his outstanding first season and deserved Player of the Year trophy Luke O’Brien became over confident and it was a combination of this and the lack of competition for his place in the side that led to his disappointing second season. Now with Threlfall pushing him for the starting berth he has returned more determined with a point to prove and on current form deserves his place. That is of course unless Taylor chooses to deploy him further forward in midfield.

Midfield provides Taylor with a selection headache before he chooses his personnel, is the side more suited to 3 in midfield and 3 forwards or a more standard 4-4-2. We have seen both systems tried so far with varying degrees of success. One thing that can’t be denied is that there is plenty of competition, especially in the centre. For the Stevenage game we set up with 4-4-2 with Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty occupying the central roles. Both players are very good at what they do but are they not too similar? In that game both played very deep and this left a gap behind the strikers and meant they were not provided with enough support. This appears to be something Taylor also identified at half time when replacing Bullock for David Syers.

This would suggest Taylor favours Doherty, and despite being considered to not look fully fit by many supporters, I would agree that he has the edge. Doherty is more mobile than Bullock, a superb passer of the ball and, judging by his performance against us for Wycombe two years ago, he has the ability to dictate and dominate a game. His perfect partner would be Michael Flynn. Last season Flynn was one of our most impressive performers but unfortunately injury has ruled him out of featuring so far. So until Flynn’s return Tom Adeyemi and Dave Syers look to stake their claim. If footballer’s were judged on academic achievement both of these would be in the Premier League however despite both impressing in patches neither can justifiably believe they deserve to be a certain starter.

Out wide the sometimes brilliant but more frequently frustrating Omar Daley looks to have returned from his horrific injury lacking in confidence and a yard of pace slower. Unless Taylor can find a way to help him return to his previous best I fear that his days as the winger who could petrify fullbacks may be over. Following Scott Neilson’s departure that leaves a lack of options on the flank, O’Brien proved he is a more than capable on the left last year but that also means he has to vacate the position of full back. On the other side Gareth Evans is yet to find his best position as either striker or winger. You can guarantee he will give it his all in either position but as a winger he is probably better coming inside from the left as he did against Rochdale last year and therefore perhaps not the solution on the right. Leon Osbourne is yet to return from injury but after impressing at the end of last season there is reason to be enthusiastic about his return. He, like Evans may benefit from a more advanced role as a wide forward and considering the amount of different options we have in terms of central midfielders this would give an compelling argument for a use of a 4-3-3 formation.

That would leave 1 striker from 3 spearheading the Bradford attack. James Hanson, Player of the Season last year impressed all fans with his strength, ability in the air and work rate. Some do worry that he may suffer from second season syndrome and he hasn’t dominated defences in the same way at the beginning of this season. It is important to remember he was injured in the run up to the beginning of the season and will only be beginning to reach full fitness, he has not lost his ability over night and would appear to have the perfect qualities suited to a lone striker.

Big things are expected from loanee, Louis Moult following his arrival from Stoke and he has shown glimpses of fantastic ability in his limited opportunities so far but Taylor appears to prefer using him out wide. That leaves Jake Speight and although he arrived under a cloud he was one of the few positives that were taken from the game against Stevenage and helped him on his way to winning over the supporters. He works tirelessly and was a real handful for the defence, and reports suggest he is going to be rewarded with a deserved start come Saturday.

I had hoped putting my thoughts in writing would help enable me to understand Taylor’s thinking and give me an insight into his possible line-up for Saturday but still I am clueless. I suppose at the end of the day I’m just a fan and that’s why when the team kicks off on Saturday I will take my place in the stands and Peter Taylor will be in the dugout.

So over to you Mr.Taylor, I certainly still have complete faith.

Everything looks bad right now

In the immediate minutes that followed Anthony Grant’s second half KO blow for Southend, the overriding mood in the air was not provided by the vocal anger of many apoplectic home fans – but the melancholy of everybody else.

This was all very miserably familiar. A game Bradford City ‘should’ win turning out to be a morale-denting defeat so formulated and repetitive over the past few years that it feels like we’re trapped in our own version of Last of the Summer Wine. Just like the world’s long-running sitcom, it ceased to be even mildly amusing a long, long time ago.

But as many supporters reacted with rage, unleashing levels of vociferous abuse that, even by Valley Parade standards, has not been reached for a good few seasons; it was the silent resignation of others which arguably represents the most concern. Worry not too much of those who text into Radio Leeds and log onto message boards to angrily point the finger, worry about those who may now be questioning their sanity in attending next time.

Prior to kick off I was buying my tickets for Stockport away and found a healthy queue of City fans handing over £20 to watch this evening’s game. With the first two league attendances of the season falling below the 11,000 mark, the hope that the shortfall of season ticket sales would be rectified by pay on the day supporters will be quickly dashed by evenings as wretched as this. Where three seasons ago a similarly woeful defeat to Accrington brought out a defiant spirit amongst supporters, tonight there was not even the slim consolation of an enjoyable atmosphere to keep the floating supporter interested.

Tonight Valley Parade was simply an ugly place to be. The boost of a commendable cup performance against higher division opposition was supposed to be act as the springboard that finally got the season going. When Tommy Doherty superbly played James Hanson through on goal after 10 minutes, we all prepared to celebrate the commencement of a promotion challenge after some false starts. Last season’s top scorer badly screwed his shot wide, and that was as good as it got for City.

Six minutes later Southend grabbed a lead that at the time seemed undeserved and slightly controversial – Barry Corr played through on goal but looking borderline offside, finishing impressively past Jon McLaughlin. But for the remaining 74 minutes the visitors made sure they were full value for the three points.

City’s formation and tactics were hard to fathom, but it appeared Peter Taylor had adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly popular at this year’s World Cup. Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty sat deep; Gareth Evans, Omar Daley and Louis Moult interchanged positions behind Hanson. But the three attacking midfielders/forwards were highly ineffective and left a hole that saw attacks quickly break down. All three were guilty of failing to utilise space and charging down blind alleys while in possession, when they needed greater awareness of what was around them. The uncompromising Southend defence easily lapped it up.

Home pressure was sporadic and little thought was paid to setting the tempo. Southend chased and harried the ball high up the park and hit City effectively on the counter attack by flooding players into the box. Josh Simpson and Craig Easton both squandered easy chances to double the advantage as a ponderous City defence panicked and continually lost sight of runners. Taylor headed to the dressing room at half time with the Bradford End chanting at him to sort it out.

Yet rather than address the trimmings, he uprooted the foundations. If there weren’t many bright spots to the first half, surely the performances of Doherty and Bullock should have been considered something to build on. While at times forced too deep, both showed composure while others hastily whacked the ball up the pitch. Doherty seemed to benefit from Bullock’s close support and everything good came through them. But the dismal performances of Evans, Daley and Moult just ahead left them hopelessly outnumbered and they needed an extra body to help. How Michael Flynn was missed.

But although Taylor made the right decision to bring on Flynn’s understudy David Syers at half time, he oddly took Bullock off in a straight swap. And while Luke O’Brien brought a bit more balance by being pushed to left midfield, with Robbie Threlfall replacing Louis Moult, the taking off of James Hanson – which may have been due to picking up a knock – for Jake Speight saw the problems largely remain. Speight played well, but he was the only one who could effectively hold up the ball.

City went 4-4-2, and a midfield which had played reasonably well but been outnumbered became even more out-gunned, Doherty struggling to exert any influence. Initially City at least carried more purpose and came close through Speight and Luke Oliver, but on 55 minutes Grant fired home from the edge of the area after a free kick was partially cleared and the mountain became even steeper.

There was an element of misfortune, however, as only seconds before the goal City had been attacking with some purpose. But when Syers’ ball to Doherty hit a bobble just before it reached the midfielder, Southend were able to break up the pitch, force a throw in and score. That’s how bad things went tonight, even that much-trumpeted new playing surface let us down.

The anger poured down from the stands, with Daley the obvious target and bizarrely told to “get off the pitch” by some fans in the Midland Road stand. We’ve used all three subs, so are we supposed to play with ten men? But while you can argue he and the rest deserved it, the fury reigning down does not present a productive atmosphere for the players to perform in. It is no surprise that certain players disappeared into their shells and left others to take responsibility. When O’Brien whacked an improbable crossfield ball over that Daley stood little chance of keeping in, it was the Jamaican and not the young defender who received the torrent of abuse.

With 13 minutes to go hope briefly flickered in the shape of the stupid sending off of right back Sean Clohessy, after he needlessly hacked O’Brien having already been booked for time wasting. But there was no way back despite pushing Oliver up front, with ideas long since run out. An awful evening was summed up by second half captain Steve Williams lashing a shot high into the Kop from a ridiculous distance, for no obvious reason than frustration.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end, sparing the players from volume 11 boos. But most will be back. And if City are to live up to the pre-season expectations there is a battle they must overcome – coping with this pressure. Half the people screaming abuse were livid for City launching long balls at the back, the other half were having a go for passing sideways and not getting it forwards quick enough. The players need to learn to ignore their frustrations and play in the right manner. The only people they need to obey are their team mates and management.

Taylor took full responsibility for the defeat afterwards, admitting his team selection had been wrong. And in this situation City have exactly the right man to cope with the pressure and get the players going again. He needs to find a system that works for the players and he has to stick with it, rather than constantly changing tactics and players. He needs to get the most out of the ability of Doherty by setting up the team so he can dictate the play. He needs to select a regular back four that are familiar with each other’s position on the field rather than having to look over their shoulders. He needs to address the worrying lack of chances and goals the forward line is delivering.

But as the sun went down during the second half, it will rise again on Saturday morning. There are eight days to work on the training ground and 42 games left to fulfill expectations. Paul Jewell was in the commentary box this evening, a reminder that, while everything looks bad now, a bad start to the season needn’t prove the end of it.

The Invincibles

When taken over a long enough time line most things tend towards a level. Preston North End arrive at Valley Parade for the second round of the League Cup in a way that illustrates this perfectly.

Darren Ferguson – “Sonnov” of you will – was pleased to get his first win of the season for the team which under Alan Irvine seemed to be in permanent residence in the top half of the second tier of English football. Irvine’s side knocked on the door of the Premier League but never went in and the sight of local rivals Blackpool doing just that almost by accident is a hard one for the Deepdale supporters.

Not that one need consider Preston North End a team who should be in residence in the top half of tier two. In the 1980s and much of the 1990s they were a side who populated the bottom two leagues. After the war they were fixtures in the top flight. In 1888/89 won both the inaugural Football League and the year’s FA Cup without losing a game. To paraphrase Wells they started at the top and worked their way down.

Which is the real Preston North End? The Invincibles of the 1880s? The stable top flight club? The lower league side? The Irvine incarnation? If all things tend towards a level what level are Preston North End to end up as?

On Sunday morning the Wikipedia entry stated the club was in the Blue Square Premier with a note that some fan was “planning ahead” making his thoughts on the club’s level clear based – seemingly – on a start that saw them defeated by Doncaster and Swansea. A win over Portsmouth on Saturday might have changed his mind but the illustration of football as short term thinking could not be clearer.

Ignore the last 125 years, it is the last 180 minutes of football that count.

So to Bradford City and Peter Taylor who watched his side concede an early goal and have a man sent off before losing at Torquay United on the back of a win which the manager had to join some supporters in criticising and a defeat at Shrewsbury Town prompted some members of the Bradford City community to write off the season before 270 of the 4,140 minutes of football in a league season had been played.

This runs contrary to the great hope of Bradford City supporters that the maxim that all things tend towards a level will see the club level in the longer term somewhere around the position Preston North End are now – half way down the second tier. That idea holds that the mass of the club is such that eventually – and on a longer time frame – City will rise the leagues through osmosis.

Catchment area, size of supporter base, budget available all factor into that equation which works over a longer term than 270 minutes and there is an idea that the actions which the club and its management (and the management of that management) takes serve to hamper that osmosis rather than aid it. Each of us would have a different view on which actions these are.

The 270 minutes of league football might have delighted Bantams supporters not – in that context – hardly matters. The calculation is done over 1,000s of hours of play not three games but cup football concerns itself with those shorter time frames and the joy of those 120 minutes against Nottingham Forest in the last round of this competition stand as a marked contrast to the league season.

One could put this down to any number of factors but choice d’jour is the idea that the Bantams go from being the big team in every League Two game to the small team when playing tier two sides and the resultant release of pressure allows the team to perform better. It is a hangover from the World Cup thinking and England’s choking where the weight of expectation – for whatever reason it is in place – is a barrier to performance.

When the players are considered to be good by virtue of the shirt they wear they play poorly, when they are considered to be poor they play well that is if you consider the league games to have been poor so far, many do not although Peter Taylor does and post game after Torquay he once again charged the players with the responsibility of performing better.

It is not hard to see why Taylor makes this mental challenge to the players. If they can beat Forest – a team which would be acknowledged as “better” footballers, they can beat anyone. The key to that performance being mindset. That – more than the choice of substitute or formation – is what makes a manager able to effect his team.

Prime target of Taylor’s more public coaching is Jon McLaughlin who the manager singled out as having made a pair of mistakes which caused concessions on Saturday. Having given the young keeper the number one shirt Taylor rides the youngster. Twelve month ago when it was considered that Simon Eastwood was making a mistakes that cost game the clamour for McLaughlin was marked. One doubts that Lloyd Saxton will be given a place in the side for this Preston game, or that there will be calls for him to be played.

At right back Lewis Hunt continues in the place of the injured Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien is expected to come in at left back for the suspended Robbie Threlfall. Taylor could differ from his pairing of Shane Duff and Luke Oliver to return Steve Williams to the side – Williams perhaps being better equipped to to copy with the more finessed play of the leagues above. Zesh Rehman is also in the reckoning.

The midfield three of Tommy Doherty, Lee Bullock and Tom Ademeyi pick themselves with Michael Flynn out for a month although David Syers – impressive in the last round – could be drafted in over the Norwich loanee who has been given clearance to play from his own club or Doherty who struggled on Saturday and is “not thought to be fully fit” which is often football fan code for “player playing badly, but we don’t want to say it cause we like him.”

James Hanson and Gareth Evans have played almost every minute for City this season as two of the front three and with Louis Moult making little impression since the season started Jake Speight than did in the win over Forest one can imagine Peter Taylor may see a chance to change up front.

Speight is struggling with an injury but he is expected to play some part in the two games this week – City also facing Southend United on Friday night – while Moult more than anyone has looked out of sorts so far. A young player with a good few months ahead of him he has time to change that.

Omar Daley has looked out of the fit of the side thus far this season while Chibuzor Chilaka – given a squad number on Saturday – also stands by.

Football viewed from afar

The thing about seeing City twice a year is that you spend the rest of the time trying to guess what the team are like.

You read match reports and watch highlights and your head makes up the rest of the game. You try to guess why the team does well or badly. You add the bits you read to the bits you see and you try see what makes the team good or bad from a long way away.

You get to see the odd game. Torquay is not that far from where we live and so you turn up all happy because you are getting to see the team you used to support week in week out but now you only see a couple of times and when you do you make sure you know all the names of the players and what people think of them, how they look on the Football League Show but seeing them play is different.

Wearing all white they look different to the claret team that kept me up watching Sky Sports News to see the winner against Forest or the one who had struggled to a win last week. I was expecting that kind of dour grinding out of a result. It didn’t take long to change.

I would have thought before today that John McLaughlin was a much more confident keeper than he looked when he stood stock still when tiny Gills winger Danny Stevens ran from the middle of the pitch and put the ball past him but he isn’t. He looked raw and not really the player who had demanded a chance for first team football like you’d believe from reading the talk about City.

Lots of supporting City from down here is about reading. You read the club’s website and you read the Telegraph and Argus. You read Fred Bloggs Bantams, BfB and Bantams Fan. You read Claret and Banter and The Official Message Board and you join in but you know you are cut off from it all because when you watch Zesh Rehman who you are led to believe is the worst sort of rubbish you think you must be watching a different player and when you see the so called bearded wonder Tommy Doherty you can’t see what people see in him at all.

I wanted to see Jake Speight today to see if you could see the horns and tail and I wanted to see more of Luke O’Brien because I liked his hustle last year. Louis Moult was supposed to be the great white hope. He hardly got noticed.

Rehman came on cause Robbie Threlfall was sent off after ten minutes for a handball that was caused by a lot of confusion and seemed a bit harsh but when you only see City a couple of times a year and they have already gone a goal down and conceded a penalty and had a red card then you think that everything is unfair. McLaughlin saved the penalty and then made a couple of other great stops. It is funny to see a footballer like McLaughlin who’s confidence lags behind his ability. Normally it is the other way around.

McLaughlin could have been at fault for the second goal when Chris Zebroski seemed to back the ball into the net but it was hard to tell in the melee. It seemed that the City keeper needed a drink of what they people who watch City drink. They assume that the Bantams are great and just need to play that way, McLaughlin can play great but doesn’t seem to know it.

City never looked like winning the game after the sending off although last year’s hero Gareth Evans looked good and James Hanson was good having two headers which could have been the first the home team conceded in the last fifty years or something. Three wins out of three for them so far. Taylor went to a wing backs formation taking off the disappointing beardeo and the fact that we were in the game as long as we were was something but I was glad for once to not have to be driving all the back to Bradford cause there was not very much to cheer you up.

Its funny but some of the City fans don’t want cheering up or the only way they do want cheering up is by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes taking what they call drastic action. Over a drink before there was talk about Steve Cotterill and how he should have been appointed rather than Peter Taylor and how much of a difference that would have made. After there were more grumbles but no one really knows what drastic action is including me.

At the game some people got aggressive and there were boos and jeers. This always upsets me cause when I left Bradford I thought that the thing about only going to away games from then on would be that you only got the great support that we had at Tranmere 5-4. Not like that now.

The joint chairmen are in a funny position now. They gave the fans who wanted a change of manager a change of manager when Taylor was appointed so how can they justify not doing it again? Lawn and Rhodes gave the decision making at City over the the people who moaned the most and if those people are moaning again why not do as they say? Apart from the fact that we are three games into the season and have got what almost everyone agrees good manager. You have to wonder how long it is before stories about how nice the suits City wear are not enough to stop the fans from looking at the City board after changing manager time and time again but never changing fortunes.

So I’ll go back to reading (and writing) and wonder what state the Bantams will be in the next time I see them. We used to say it couldn’t be much worse but it always can and even when down and struggling today it never seemed that Taylor could do much other than make sure his players kept their heads and hung in the game. Last year Evans got us a bit of luck in the last minute and today we were in with a chance of that for a long time. It wasn’t to be and it looked unlikely for most of the match.

On Tuesday perhaps Speight will be in the team to play Preston North End and I’ll be back to following City from afar. Funny it is easier to see what is going wrong from miles away or at least it seems to be.

The Entire Unexpected Entrance of David Syers

Sometimes the difference between success and failure is a hair’s breadth, a slight thing, a nothing. On an evening like the 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest the difference is a chasm easily measured and evident to all.

For forty-five minutes the Bantams looked like a team ready to be beaten with some ease by a Nottingham Forest who represented the toughest draw in the hat in this League Cup first round. The Bantams were pedestrian, static, disinterested and Forest were not called on to be much better. At the end of the match – after the Bantams had scored twice – the change in attitude that had come at half time was the obvious and only reason for the turn around.

Matt Thornhill had finished off a cross which had seen Luke O’Brien left with two men to mark on the far post with Omar Daley – a threat going forward on his first game of the season – a long way away. The cross had come in too easily, the play that build up to the cross was too easy, it was all a bit too easy.

Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock in the midfield were second best with a physical Guy Moussi and Chris Cohen finding space to play and the Bantams forwards were disjointed to say the least. Louis Moult had a rude awakening playing a pair of Championship central defenders who divided Moult and his partner Jake Speight and kept the one quiet.

Keeping Speight quiet would seem to be impossible. To call the player a handful would be an understatement. Even as the Bantams struggled the new recruit from Mansfield was in perpetual motion stretching defenders who had not a moment of peace. In the opening exchanges there was a problem getting the ball to stick for City up front but at the end of the match Speight had won enough battles with defender Wes Morgan that he was given the yard of space to control the ball.

Speight’s major contribution was winning the free kick which resulted in James Hanson’s winning goal. A ball played into the striker saw him turn Morgan and bare down on goal only to have his legs taken away. Morgan was – perhaps – lucky to not be red carded for the offence which was the culmination of any number of clashes which saw physical tackles resulting on players on the Speight on the floor often.

You can, dear reader, take a view on Speight and why tackles on him that saw him left on the floor resulted in so few free kicks but none would deny that the lively forward was a pain the the Nottingham Forest backside all evening. His flicks, his control, his ability to take control of a ball fast are excellent and he seems set to start causing trouble on the field for City, rather than off it.

The free kick for the foul a Speight was struck at goal by Simon Ramsden – a second half sub who settled into the midfield – with keeper Lee Camp showing the Bantams a half of the net to strike the ball to. Moult obliged and Camp saved only for Steve Williams to force back at goal and Hanson to tidy into the net for his first goal of the season.

Hanson – who also joined the action at half time – rarely lost a header all evening and Forest found him hard to cover. His power in the air – and the accuracy of those won headers – is uncanny. Lets hope no one notices before the transfer window closes and if they do lets value him alongside Adam Le Fondre at £3m to scare suitors away.

It would be easy to note Hanson’s entry – the target man coming on and a switch to a 433 – as being the difference between the opening forty five minutes of lifelessness and the second half of dogged determination. The ball stuck more but more than that the attitude changed and that change was marked in the entire unexpected entrance of David Syers.

David Syers signed non-contract forms this afternoon. He played for Farsley Celtic and Harrogate Town last season and played cricket in the summer. Twelve minutes after coming off the bench in his first proper game he fixed his eyes on a ball that went loose in the box and charged at it to touch the ball into the unguarded goal.

Speight had burst though and Camp had gone down well at his feet and Syers locked onto the ball and would not be stopped, eating up grass as he hurtled towards the ball. Determination evident, delight obvious. Syers – like Hanson, McLaughlin and Williams – shows the drive of a player who seems to appreciate the position he was in before being a footballer and plays in a way to ensure that continues.

Syers brought to the midfield a level of combativeness which had been lacking – he was pushed off the ball by Moussi and roared back with a classy chunk away of a tackle which typified the second half and extra time display – but one doubts that one can put the resurgence down to his entrance. The Dennis Compton of Bradford he may be but there was something else at play.

Nor indeed would one put the turnaround down to buttock/rocket interfacing by Peter Taylor at half time – the players did not come out fired up and angry – but rather there was a belief which started in the dressing room with perhaps a reminder that if the simple things of football were to be done well then the performance would improve.

Indeed it did and by the time Syers scored the Bantams had inched back into the game which – at the end of extra time – they had travelled the mile chasm of performance to win.

It was a win marked with this increasingly belief – this augmenting confidence – which manifested in performances all over the field. It is perhaps unfair to single out players in what was a entire team performance but Steve Williams deserves a mention for an outstanding display where he both rose the test test as a defender nicking balls away in tight Forest build up and a solid head-it-away kind of centrehalf. Shaun Shane Duff alongside him played well, Doherty sat back and moved the ball well. Jon McLaighlin made an outstanding save or two late on which early in a tentative display looked unlikely.

It was a well deserved win over a capable side. The draw for the next round will be interesting but whomever it throws up Taylor will hope City have learnt the lesson. When the players show belief in each other, confidence and faith in their own and their team mates abilities then there are fewer limits than one might think.

So now then

When last we convened for serious business, dear reader, Peter Taylor’s Bradford City had gone a half dozen games wining four and drawing two guiding the club away from the lowest finish since 1966 towards a middle of the league end point.

As we saw in the summer, a lot has changed since 1966.

These four wins: Crewe away and Northampton Town, Barnet and Morecambe at home; form the basis for the optimism with which City come into the season. In the match before the six game run – a 2-1 home defeat to Macclesfield Townthe situation was described thus: “PT seems to be doing at the moment is losing the confidence of the paying customer and relying purely on a reputation.”

Taylor was – it was said – “achieving (results) with Stuart’s squad not his own” and some four months on little in the personnel has changed but one doubts that when Taylor saw the squad he thought there was a problem with the ability of the side and recalling the Bury games before he arrived one would agree.

Nevertheless the attitude at and around the club has changed. Optimism – however founded – is in the core of beliefs on which performance is based and Taylor’s robust team is built on the idea of a long term belief in the success of the season rather than an obsession on individual games. Taylor – as with Paul Jewell – is keen for his side to shake off the hangovers or elation which rolled over from McCall’s side’s games.

So on opening day of the season as City go to Shrewsbury Town Taylor will be thinking not of the discreet entity but rather the forty six game whole.

Jon McLaughlin – who did not play a part against Bradford (Park Avenue) in the week – is expected to start the season as number one keeper. One hopes the young custodian makes no mistakes all season but should he – and one remembers the World Cup again – then one has to wonder if the clamour for his understudy to be given a chance will be as vocal as it was when McLaughlin played second fiddle to a faltering Simon Eastwood.

Should McLaughlin not play then Lloyd Saxton stands by but one doubts he will enjoy the same pressure for his inclusion as McLaughlin enjoyed twelve months ago. Junior Chris Elliott is the Bantams’ first choice.

Simon Eastwood Ramsden is captain and comes into the season as right back with Zesh Rehman and Lewis Hunt available as cover for the position, and for central defensive roles. Similarly Robbie Threlfall is left back elect with Luke O’Brien – his cover – considered by Taylor as much as a midfielder as a full back the very capable young Louis Horne also serves a left back cover.

Many may debate who is expected to start in the middle of the back four. Steve Williams is thought to be highly thought of by Taylor while new arrival Shaun Duff probably has not moved after a decade at Cheltenham to sit on the bench but Duff’s decade in the lower leagues does not suggest that pedigree of Zesh Rehman while Luke Oliver is – well – really big.

If Taylor has a job this season then it is to get the best out of a player like Zesh Rehman who no few people will tell you is a poor footballer – a concept alien to me – but has obvious talents which were the cornerstone of the six game run at the end of last term which the confidence for this year is built from. Likewise Steve Williams’s abilities are not to be squandered although were I to be a betting man I would suspect that the former barber will not be making the cut and Duff will make his City debut alongside Rehman.

You, dear reader, may have different views.

The midfield three picks itself when fit – or so we expect – with Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Michael Flynn presenting an impressive engine room but Doherty is not expected to make the game with Tom Adeyemi filling in in that way that might prove hard to dislodge. Michael Flynn is hopeful of playing but Luke O’Brien stands by to fill in for the Welshman. Ryan Harrison and Luke Dean enjoyed wretched pre-seasons with Dean breaking a leg and Harrison struggling to partake in the robust midfield battle.

Gareth Evans is likely to be leading the line in the absence of James Hanson who is suffering a back problem that will most likely restrict him to the bench keeping the former Manchester United and Macclesfield man out of a chance of playing in one of the wide berths. Louis Moult has not looked the same kind of battering ram as Hanson but could be used in the middle striker’s role to hang off the shoulder of a high defence.

It is hard to understand the significance of the two wider roles in Peter Taylor’s mind this season. 433 is a notoriously hard to play formation with a requirement for these two wide players to be able to either track back with on coming full backs or fall into the midfield to create a five while always being aware that should they fall too deep, not break quick enough, and isolate the central striker the formation becomes not only defensive but also utterly ineffectual.

Away from Valley Parade Taylor will no doubt hope to create a bolstered midfield and his selections in these two positions can flex to accommodate that.

Taylor is without the injured Leon Osborne and the suspended Omar Daley for this game but does have Jake Speight, Scott Neilson and Moult. Taylor has seen more of Moult than most others and will know how well equipped the Stoke striker who scored two in his first two pre-season games is to the wide role. Should the gaffer believe Moult can play a wide left role then it seems that he will most likely get that role with Neilson on the right otherwise Speight will make a debut.

As with Taylor bringing an optimistic side into this season there was a time when that looked highly unlikely.

Who isn’t optimistic at the start of every season?

On The 2010/2011 Season

Who isn’t optimistic at the start of every season? I am always optimistic but this season I sense a certain difference around VP. Perhaps because, and this is in no way having a go at Stuart, City have a manager now who has got clubs out of this division before. I know that’s no guarantee but it’s not a bad thing to have in your corner.

I was at Bradford City this week and people who are normally quite cynical were openly saying that they feel this is the club’s year. You can see why they feel this.

Peter Taylor has kept the logical strong choices from Stuart’s squad and let others leave. Taylor has also brought in some exciting talent. There’s a Norwich City fan in our office and he is raving about what a good loan signing Adeyemi is.

Also when you look at what else is around, Notts County and Rochdale no longer provide competition and those sides coming down to League 2 are not in the best of health.

Are there enough goals in the team? I think there are if Moult is as good as people are saying he is. With him you have Hanson, Evans, Doherty, Flynn and Adeyemi…that should give you 70 goals at least. Then there’s a fully fit Omar hopefully and the defenders chipping in with a few.

One thing is for certain, Bradford City have got to stop being a big fish in a small pond. They need promotion to help them get back to the Championship – their natural home in my view.

It’s getting harder for the club to flog even cheap season tickets and failure again this term would only make that tougher still.

But let’s not end on a negative, because that’s honestly not how I feel. City will challenge for the top spots and they have the squad to get them across the line. I was there for the last promotion, I want to be there for the next…this season.

Note: Derm Tanner the BBC Radio Leeds Commentator/Presenter will be covering the Bantams on t’ wireless this season.

The long pre-season ends

As Lee Bullock turned a chance to get a fifth goal in City’s comprehensive 4-0 win over neighbours Bradford (Park Avenue) wide of the post following a powerful run by Tom Adeyemi the Bantams’ pre-season came to a merciful end with little learnt and little needed to be known.

Peter Taylor sent out a first half team assembled of players not expected to play on Saturday afternoon’s season opener against Shrewsbury Town with new face Seb Carole on trial and playing on the right with David Syers in the middle and suspended for Saturday Omar Daley on the left all ahead of – surprisingly – a first City appearance for Tom Doherty.

The bearded midfielder’s forty five minutes showed the glimpses of what Taylor sees in the player sitting deep and moving the ball around usefully finding the active running of forward pair Jake Speight – who dropped off well and showed a useful turn or two – and Louis Moult who is a strong looking, hard working striker who is instantly impressive in his play and attitude.

Moult scored his second goal for the club – and City’s second of the night – controlling a pass just outside the box and hitting a mid-height controlled shot past the visiting goalkeeper.

Moult’s goal added to a Steve Williams headed goal from an Omar Daley corner which saw the young defender jump unopposed in the box to head in. Williams and his defensive partner Shaun Duff started flat-footed allowing two chances in the first five minutes to test Lloyd Saxton in goal but that spell at the start and a pair of shots by Spencer Harris and David Heagrey at the end Avenue did little to threaten despite playing with spirit.

Spirit which City either lacked or controlled. Moult and former City man Tom Claisse both went in for a ball with studs showing and in League football both would have been punished the same but Claisse’s aggressive shove of Moult to the ground showed the difference in approach from the teams.

Which is not to say that City did not care – on the contrary, they do – but that Taylor’s side focus upset from incidents like that, stings from defeat, grumpiness from misplaced passes and pushes them into the performance. Avenue, seemingly, just push them into pushes.

Taylor watched the game from half way up the main stand trying to communicate with Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs on the bench with a series of hand signal and mimes which – in time – turned into a series of shouts. “Three subs?” Jacobs bellowed up to a nod, later before kids keeper Chris Elliott came on a head stuck itself over the dug out and was pointed at in a “am I coming on?” way. A couple of mobile phones maybe?

As technology failed City did not. A 433 after half time saw a team more resembling that which one might expect on Saturday with Gareth Evans being supported by James Hanson and Scott Neilson in the forward line which immediately looked lively. Hanson has grown as a player – in his play – and as a human – in his build – from his time last season looking a long way from the part timers he was playing against.

Evans moved well making himself an option always and held the ball when needed, bringing others into the game. Neilson charged up and down the right. Both got goals.

Evans’s reward for an inventive ball flipped over to Neilson was a return pass for the striker to accurately power in from the edge of the box to make the game 3-0. Ten minutes from time Neilson is given the ball and the freedom of the box to get a fourth.

The comprehensive nature of the win aside the game offered little for Taylor to learn. Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall combined well down the left in the second half as they did at the end of last season, Evans looks to have brought his fine end of last year to the start of this, Lee Bullock looked controlled and quality as he did last year. You can see the theme building.

This was City’s first game of pre-season at Valley Parade – a bedding in for the new turf of which it is said with justification that one could play a snooker game on it – but it was the last game of a pre-season which went back to the start of April when Taylor’s side ensured they would stay in League Two.

Four months of build up to a season which starts on Saturday.

Watching the grass grow

Players sent to prison for a weekend, players sent to prison for twenty five years. Accusations of lies told to City by Jake Speight, from City by Guiseley. Plans coming to pass, plans falling apart. All along though there has been a constant message coming from Valley Parade.

The grass is growing.

City look forward to a season in which increasingly they are tipped for promotion with a grounded optimism based – perhaps – on three years of League Two football on which it was observed that it was not the best but the most resilient sides which got promoted. The sides who were best able to learn from and forget the last result to move onto the next.

So three days after Rochdale City play a final pre-season game and one is reminded how Peter Taylor’s side turned around in the three days between an atrocious defeat at Accrington Stanley to a fine win at Spotland.

That resilience contrasted with Stuart McCall’s side which lived on rollovers and hangovers that took the baggage of one game into the other be it from eight game unbeaten runs of ten game spells without wins. Taylor’s side are less emotional, and from that comes the idea that they will be a more stable creation. Flatter perhaps but easier to play.

Like the grass at Valley Parade which has been the club’s main news focus of the summer.

The turf at Valley Parade has been relaid on the instructions of Peter Taylor who wants a green carpet. Gone are the Peter Beagrie Bog relaid for the left winger to enjoy in the second half, gone are the sandy beaches of the box and in the place comes the luxurious carpeting in City’s new home.

City’s new home and Bradford Park Avenue’s old ground – the other Bradford club spent some time at Valley Parade as a part of the decline to termination at the start of the 1970s – but the Wool City Derby is one of football’s forgotten games last played competitively 1969 with the scores left standing – hanging even – with City having won 20 and Park Avenue 21 of 58.

Park Avenue’s progress up the leagues is slow and City fans debate the merits of that but they start a season in Northern Premier League Premier Division three leagues below the Bantams.

Avenue will most likely field three former City players – Kevin Sanasy, Diddy David Brown and Tom Claisse – with the former player especially interesting to see. A hotheaded player when a Bantam but Sanasy who had some ability and it will be interesting to see how he has progressed.

The Bantams hope to have Michael Flynn fit enough to play a part in expectation of a return for the opening game of the season at Shrewsbury Town on Saturday although Tommy Doherty is unlikely to play in either. Tom Adeyemi, Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien are likely to be the midfield three behind Omar Daley and Scott Neilson supporting Gareth Evans with James Hanson out injured with goalscorer from Saturday Louis Moult starting on the bench alongside Jake Speight.

Jon McLaughlin sits behind a back four of Simon Ramsden on one side and Robbie Threlfall the other with Zesh Rehman and one of Shaun Duff, Luke Oliver and Steve Williams alongside, most likely the former.

Here comes the season

Rochdale and Bradford City took to the pitch with the words of  The Stone Roses’ “This is the moment I’ve waited for” blasting out of the Spotland PA system. And while we all know that moment is really still another week away, there’s a sense of liberation in reaching this point.

The close season is almost over, another lengthy break from football survived. For the sizeable travelling City support, Saturdays have now returned to being about going to the football. 46 league games to look forward to, three cup competitions to take a curious interest in.

We’ve made it. Now let’s get started.

There’s so much analysis and debate about whether pre-season friendlies really matter, but I think what we all want to gain at this time of year is re-assurance that the players are ready and able for the many battles ahead. And in a decent workout against opponents who begin next week a league above, there was much to feel assured about. City were every bit Rochdale’s equals this afternoon, and that was while missing key players.

A few weeks back, manager Peter Taylor  stated this game was ideal preparation for Shrewsbury, and the 4-5-1 formation he employed in the first half offer strong clues to his thinking for the tricky opening day trip to the New Meadow. The sole forward today was the clearly confident Gareth Evans, who has maintained his strong end of season form into pre-season at least. While not best suited to the target man role, Evans was charging all over the final third to make himself available to others, attempting to hold up the ball so midfield runners could get forward and support him.

Apart from a tentative performance from Omar Daley on the left wing, this approach was largely successful with Scott Neilson in excellent form and on-loan Norwich teenager Tom Adeyemi catching the eye with his box-to-box style. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien largely held central positions in the middle of the park, and the ball retention from City was particularly impressive. Patience took precedence over urgency, as the ball was methodically worked around the pitch. Robbie Threlfall came closest to scoring during the first half, with a long range drive.

Taylor reverted to 4-4-2 after the break, with new strikers Jake Speight and Louis Moult brought on and O’Brien moved to left wing. Within 10 minutes of his first appearance in claret and amber, Moult latched onto Adeyemi’s through ball and firing a perfect low shot into the bottom corner to put City in front. Taylor had previewed Moult’s arrival on Friday by stating he was signing a striker who offered something different to what he had, and his style of playing on the shoulder of the last man is certainly that.

The lead was short lived as former City loanee Chris O’Grady found space, following a partial clearance, to fire a low shot past Jon McLaughlin; with the City keeper initially unsighted due to the number of players in the box. And when a minute later Lewis Hunt – another half time sub – tripped Jean Louis Akpo-Akpra inside the area, a credible win looked set to turn into defeat.

O’Grady’s run-up for the penalty was similar in length to Blanco’s for Mexico against France at the World Cup. As he got closer, he kept adjusting his pace, while McLaughlin erratically moved left-to-right on his line and feigned to commit himself to going to his left. The mind games were won by City’s new number one, who did actually dive to his left and superbly kept out a decently-struck spot kick. It should be noted McLaughlin’s performance was far from flawless, he looked very tentative from crosses in particular. But as confidence boosts a week before a season go, he couldn’t have asked for a better moment.

City shaded the final 20 minutes, with the much-discussed Speight making more of an impression as the game went on. He is quite small with quick feet, but what  really stood out was his strength in holding up the ball. The reaction from supporters near me when he came on suggests he has much convincing to do after what’s gone on, but by the end he’d offered some evidence to justify Taylor’s faith.

Defensively City looked strong all afternoon. Zesh Rehman barely put a foot wrong, Oliver caught the eye with his passing ability. His half time replacement Shane Duff seems to be an excellent acquisition and Hunt, who looks a bit like Richard Edghill, should be adequate back-up for the on-form Simon Ramsden. A big question mark with the 4-5-1 formation, if employed, is the tracking back of the midfield. Certainly Neilson cannot afford to allow opposition full backs to brush past him in the manner Joe Widdowson regularly managed in the first half.

Adeyemi almost snatched a late winner with a superb long-range shot that was tipped over, and when the final whistle was blown seconds later a buzz of satisfaction emanated from City fans as they warmly applauded the players off. The first Saturday back – none of the others are likely to be as relaxing as this.

For as the season kicks off for real at 3pm next Saturday, the expectation levels also return. City are touted as favourites by some bookies, and how that will translate into the weekly battles remains to be seen. What will our reaction be if City lose at Shrewsbury? 45 games still to go, but the pressure will surely increase. And while this workout offered plenty of indications that the players are taking on board Taylor’s instructions, applying it when the grumbles are reigning down from the stands is another matter.

Can the patient passing approach withstand the predictable bellows of “FORWARDS” from some fans?

All we know about this season is that City will win some games and City will also lose some games (the rest will probably be draws), and how the ups and downs are managed will probably determine whether this is the season it finally comes together.

Rochdale may still be a league above us, but that didn’t stop our light-hearted chants about how small and rubbish their set up is compared to ours. We, and others, consider Bradford City “too big for League Two”. But that inevitably creates a level of pressure on the players which their rivals on the pitch simply don’t feel. Whether it lifts or weighs them down cannot be calculated during a relaxing pre-season game, but we’re about to find out whether they have the mental strength to make our dreams come true.

This is the moment, the moment to go back into the pressure cooker.

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